UConn men’s basketball is 7-0 after dispatching New Hampshire comfortably. Though it was not a flawless performance, the Huskies’ talent and depth shined as they built a big early lead and held on despite a sloppy second half.
Some thoughts on the team and its performance through seven games.
Aman: Against New Hampshire, Alex Karaban was 0-for-6 on outside shots. Solo Ball was 1-for-8 from the field. But the other three starters combined to score 63 points and Samson Johnson added a powerful 10 points off the bench. Tristen Newton was 0-for-5 from beyond the arcbut still managed to finish with 17 points and nearly notched his second straight triple-double, adding 10 rebounds and seven assists.
One of the most dangerous elements of this team is how many different guys can beat you. While Clingan just hit a career-high, Karaban eclipsed his in the season opener and Cam Spencer reached his scoring high from last season — when he was tied for Rutgers’ scoring lead — in the third game of this season. Newton was the leading scorer in the national championship game, named Empire Classic MVP, and is starting to gain recognition from national reporters for his excellence in a leading role.
Patrick Martin: Blind Resume Time!
- Sixth in the country in assists and leads their team in rebounds
- The only player in the country to average more than six rebounds and six assists a game
- Seventh in the country in Evan Miya’s Offensive Bayesian Performance Rating
- Second in the country in plus-minus
- Aaron Jones’ cousin
The answer is not Big East Preseason Player of the Year Tyler Kolek.
Diarra emerging as team’s x-factor
Dan Madigan: With Stephon Castle out, Hassan Diarra has stepped up in a big way to provide critical minutes off the bench. Diarra doesn’t add much offensively, but his relentless perimeter defense and energy off the bench has served that same spark plug effect that the likes of Clingan and Joey Calcaterra brought as reserves last year. He was out control against New Hampshire on Monday — Hurley said that himself — but Hurley also noted that Diarra is “quietly the most important player on the team.” His ability to come in, run the offense and distribute to shooters while playing stingy defense on the other end takes so much pressure off Newton and Spencer and allows them to focus on scoring the rock.
Dan Madigan: The only real flaw this team has showed so far has been an inability to hit from deep. In seven games this season, UConn has shot over 32 percent from 3-point range as a team just twice and is shooting 30.6 percent as a team. Does that mean it’s time to panic? I don’t think so.
The offense is still humming along, ranking fifth nationally in offensive efficiency. The guy they brought in to take and make 3s this year, Cam Spencer, has been as good as advertised, hitting 47.8 percent on those shots while leading the team in attempts and looking like a perfect fit within this offense. Dan Hurley’s deep offensive playbook is still working and getting guys open looks, they just haven't been falling. It hasn’t really been an issue at all because the likes of Clingan and Johnson have been so successful down low, but it’s something that will likely need to get better fast if the Huskies want to hang with the likes of Kansas, North Carolina and Gonzaga.
Patrick Martin: The looks from three will be there if the beatings UConn puts on opponents in the paint continue. The Huskies are first in the country in 2-point field goal percentage and eighth in 2-point field goal percentage defense. It’s not just Johnson and Clingan; Karaban’s two-point field goal percentage is 80 percent, which is ninth in the country. Johnson’s field goal percentage of 77 percent is tied for ninth in the nation, and Clingan’s no slouch at 67.7%. To have three guys give you that sort of efficiency around the rim is elite.
The Huskies also boast an offensive rebounding percentage that’s sixth in the nation, and only gives up 16 defensive rebounds per game, the lowest in the country. And they’ve done it all while only averaging 15.6 fouls per game. This is Jim Calhoun-esque domination of the paint, and if there’s a slight team-wide regression in shooting this year, Hurley and the coaching staff seem ready to embrace a pivot.